April 09, 2013

Chad Owens (right) celebrates with Hawaii teammate Timmy Chang after winning the 2004 Hawaii Bowl. (AP) Chad Owens (right) celebrates with Hawaii teammate Timmy Chang after winning the 2004 Hawaii Bowl. (AP)

Imagine if Adrian Peterson were to step into a cage for a mixed martial arts fight. Then imagine the collective gasps of the Minnesota Vikings coaching staff, players, front office and ownership -- not to mention the fan base -- if an opponent were to start kicking or grabbing for a submission hold on the surgically repaired left knee of the NFL's reigning Most Valuable Player.

Well, if you’re Canadian and a football fan, you need not make much of a leap of the imagination. Last Saturday night, Toronto Argonauts receiver and kick returner Chad Owens -- who as the CFL’s 2012 Most Outstanding Player is to that league what Peterson is to the NFL -- took to a cage in Honolulu for his MMA debut. In a bout contested over two three-minute rounds under amateur rules, Owens beat up Junyah Tefaga on the way to a decision victory.

That the former University of Hawaii star, an Oahu native, emerged unscathed no doubt brought relief to the Argonauts, who rolled to a Grey Cup championship last fall largely on the strength of Owens’ record-breaking season. The 31-year-old finished the season with 3,863 all-purpose yards -- 2,510 on returns, 1,328 receiving and 25 rushing -- more than anyone before him not just in the CFL but in all of pro football.

For that reason, Argonauts general manager Jim Barker had expressed his displeasure with his star in the lead-up to the bout. “I think he’s making a bad decision. Our organization thinks he’s making a bad decision,” Barker told the Canadian Press. “But we don’t have control of what players choose to do and not do in the offseason.”

Barker and the Toronto coaching staff will have a say in how Owens passes his time once training camp begins in June. Between now and then, though, maybe another MMA fight?

“If all the dots align and it makes sense, then yeah, I’d definitely love to experience it again and see where it goes,” Owens told the Canadian Press after Saturday’s fight. “But for right now, I’m not looking towards that. I’m focused on June 1, which is when [I] have to report to training camp. That’s the next fight, and once I conquer that, then we’ll go into the season and it’s a new fight each week.”

--Jeff Wagenheim

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